When most people are putting together the content for their website, they usually think about having a Home page, an About page, a Contact page, and at least a few others, depending on the nature of their business/organization. Then they often say, “I should probably have a Links page too, shouldn’t I?” Should you?
Think long and hard about this before answering. Is the reason you’d include a Links page simply to add another page of content to your site? Or, maybe because you’ve heard search engines like sites with lots of links. Or, perhaps you figure that everyone else has one, so I’d better too.
All of these reasons to include a Links page are rubbish. The only reason you might consider having a Links page should be that it provides useful information to your visitors, just like all the other pages on your site. If it doesn’t do this, then please do not include one.
Why would you want to lead potential customers/clients away from your site? People’s attention spans on the Web are extremely short as it is. If you’ve got them on your site, you don’t want to give them a quick exit.
Search engines love to see lots of good “keyword rich” content on your site. It tells them what your site is about and the more pages of quality content you’ve got on it, the more entry points there are. Say you produce environmentally friendly building supplies. Instead of linking to an external page (or pages) that you found about sustainable architecture, why not write an article on sustainable architecture yourself? Or get an expert to write the article for you and post it on your website (giving proper credit, of course).
Naturally, there are occasions when it does make sense to link to external websites. For example, on our website, we link to sites we’ve worked on, from the portfolio page. Obviously, it wouldn’t work for us to include every page of every site we’ve ever worked on directly on the site, so we link to the home page. Also, if there are related businesses/organizations that you support and that complement your services, go ahead and link to them.
But, what I almost always suggest is to have the external links open up in a new browser window. That way once the visitor is done looking at and closes the other site, your site is still there in the background, so they can say, “Oh yeah, I was looking at this site!”
As for the point about Google and co. liking links: It’s true, Google does like quality links – to your site. When other, relevant, sites link to your website, these incoming links tell Google that your site is important. The more popular and authoritative the sites linking to your sites are, the more weight Google places on those links.
Google generally doesn’t give much weight to links from your website to others. It can be helpful to link to some quality, authority websites, especially those with .edu and .org domains. However, Google may penalize your site if you link to “suspect” sites – i.e., link farms. Never do that.
To summarize… Don’t include a Links page on your site just because all the other kids are doing it. Have a good reason for including one – namely providing a service or valuable information to your visitors – if you do. If you can write about the information yourself, try that first. Otherwise, if you do need to link to other sites, make sure they’re valuable, quality sites (oh yeah, make sure to check regularly that your external links are still valid!) and, preferably, open them up in a new browser window.